Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is known as many things: Style icon. Tragic widow. Hounded public figure. Lady of Camelot. But Greg Lawrence, and 125 of the authors and editors he interviewed for his book Jackie As Editor, is betting readers aren’t aware of one of the things that gave Jackie the most pleasure in life—her two decades as a prized editor at Doubleday.
Interested in this title? You might also like Reading Jackie by William Kuhn.
Sought out by the best and the brightest authors, tackling a wide range of subjects and genres, Jackie wrangled together more than 100 books during the last 19 years of her life. Chronicling her involvement in the publication of commercial bestsellers, like Michael Jackson’s memoir Moonwalk, works by Nobel laureates, like Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy, and seminal ideological think-pieces, like Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth, Lawrence’s Jackie has her finger on the pulse of American culture, broadening our ideas and, in turn, our world.
Nobody really knows about Jackie’s 19 years in publishing. Why not?
She was very private about it. She rarely allowed her name to appear in her books. She didn’t allow any photos of her to be taken by the time she got to Doubleday. So many people weren’t aware of the serious work she did. My editor Thomas Dunne, who had known Jackie vaguely throughout the years, was surprised to find out that she was as serious an editor as anyone. She put in 19 years, came out with 100 books. That’s quite an accomplishment. Her favorite books were the lavish illustrated books she did with photographers and illustrators. The book I wrote with ballerina Gelsey Kirkland, Dancing on My Grave, was her first bestseller. A couple of years after that, she published Michael Jackon’s memoir, Moonwalk. She’d do these commercial books that would become bestsellers to give her the freedom to publish other books that were important to her.
How’d she get started editing books?
Shortly after Aristotle Onassis died—her kids were teenagers by that point and required less time of her—she was casting about for what to do. Her old friend Thomas Guinzburg, the president and publisher of Viking Press, suggested that she start as a consulting editor. Her primary concern would be to acquire books. She had a wide social circle and it was a learning curve.
Had she ever expressed interest in publishing before then?
There were several little indications. Remember, she started as a journalist. She worked as the roving camera girl for the Washington Times. And there were several books about JFK that she had a hand in editing, like [former Kennedy speechwriter] Ted Sorensen’s books. He told me in an interview that she gave him very copious notes, very detailed and specific. Sorensen said she was a natural-born editor. In general, Jackie had a natural inclination toward books. She prized the cultural discourse that they afforded, that was very important to her.
She’s edited three of your own books. What was that experience like?
I was always amazed by her intellect. She was possessed with an amazing intellectual curiosity, every subject under the sun interested her. When Gelsey and I were working on Dancing on My Grave, we’d submit a chapter at a time. She would call or write these very effusive notes of praise. We thought everything was moving along fine. By the time we had a full manuscript, about 600 pages, she took it and cut it in half. It was difficult to accept at first, but, of course, she was right. She had a knack of cutting to the chase, eliminating the superfluous material. She had a wonderful sense of how to make a story work.
Do you think this book changes the way people will view her?
I hope so. For many of the people who contributed to this book, that was the reason why they did agree to speak with me. Many of them haven’t spoken publicly about her before. She had such a passion for literature, reading. It really guided her through those last 19 years of her life.
Five Memorable Works Edited by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis:
1. The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers (Doubleday, 1988)
2. Moonwalk by Michael Jackson (Doubleday, 1988)
3. Blood Memory by Martha Graham (Doubleday, 1991)
4. The Last Tsar: The Life and Death of Nicholas II by Edvard Radzinsky (Doubleday, 1992)
5. The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz (Doubleday, 1990-92)
Jackie as Editor: The Literary Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
Thomas Dunne Books / Jan. 4, 2011 / 9780312591939 / $25.99